Making pizza — yeast attempt #1


Butternut squash, sliced salami and mozzarella on olive oil with pepper and coarse salt.

If you’ve read anything since January began, you know my “resolution” this year is to try to get comfortable using yeast in baking.  I don’t have a great track record and the most recent time I tried, I killed the yeast by using water that was too hot.

It doesn’t keep me from saving recipes for baked bread and other yeast products.  I bet my file of saved recipes has dozens and dozens of recipes I aspire to make.

Being as it was the first attempt, I knew I needed a win so I went for a recipe that you could make with cold tap water if you’d like because it’s a pizza dough with a very slow rise — 18 hours.  You basically make it one day, let it overnight, and then use it the next day.  I figured if I didn’t have to heat the water at all, I’d be less likely to make a mess of it.

It worked.  I used a recipe I had saved from Jim Lahey on the food 52 website.  I’ve read a bit about Jim Lahey because he’s got this idea of making bread dough in huge batches, storing it in your refrigerator (you’d need one bigger than mine to have the extra space), and then grabbing off a bit, letting it rise, and then you have fresh bread all of the time.  It’s a lovely idea.  Maybe someday when I have a full-size refrigerator and not the tiny one I have now…

The recipe says it makes 4 pizzas so I split the recipe in half.  It’s meant to be a thin, crispy crusted pizza so if you wanted thicker, you could probably make 2 pizzas with the same recipe.  In terms of the baking, it assumes you have a pizza stone.  I do not.  I had to improvise my own baking technique.  More on that later.

At about 6 p.m. on Saturday night I measured out and mixed up my dough.  I have a kitchen scale (thanks Groupon!) so I measured my flour and yeast by weight but the recipe on the food 52 site also gives you standard measurements.

  • 250 grams flour + 1 gram active dry yeast — should be .5 grams, but really…?
  • 1 t. salt
  • 3/4 c. water from the tap

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It’ll look a little shaggy but then it all comes together.  You don’t have to knead it and you just make sure it’s in a tidy ball, put cling wrap or a towel over it, and put it somewhere to rise.  In a couple of hours I could see it was changing.  062By the time I went to bed, it was looking pretty spongy and spreading.  I could see very affirming bubbles so I knew my yeast was working.  It was a relief not to be so worried.

It stayed in the oven overnight.  By the next morning, it looked a bit like it had the night before but it was a bit smoother and a bit 060stickier.  It had not yet been quite 18 hours (more like 12), but I was curious to see how my dough was doing so I cut off a small amount (maybe just under a third) to make a breakfast pizza with some bacon I had cooked a previous day, a little cheddar cheese, and a couple of eggs.

Like I said, I don’t have a pizza oven so I had to do a bit of improvising and since I was the only one eating it, I didn’t have to worry too much if my results weren’t great.  I dug out my cast iron crepe pan thinking it’s probably the most consistent heating and a good size, but I didn’t heat it in the over like you would a pizza stone.  Instead, I stretched out my dough, placed in on the pan sprayed with a little oil, and then added 069 070 071 073 074 084my toppings.  I tried baking it in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes — sort of similar directions to frozen pizzas at the store.  My pizza looked mostly done and the eggs were cooked-ish, but the color wasn’t right.  I did end up turning on the broiler and leaving it to brown for about 3 minutes.  It meant the eggs got a bit overdone, so if I were to do it again, I’d bake 7-8 minutes and then broil for 2-3.

It was pretty tasty even though the eggs were overcooked.  The dough was both soft and crispy and it was the perfect start to a weekend day.

Later — closer to 18 hours — I decided to make a late lunch pizza to use up the rest of the dough.  I had roasted some cubed butternut squash on Friday in preparation for pizza making and I had some salami and mozzarella cheese to use with it.

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I had more dough so I used a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.  This time I decided to bake at 500 degrees like the recipe said, but again I don’t have a pizza stone and I didn’t preheat the pan on which I was baking.  I stretched out my dough and placed it on the pan.  To top it, I added olive oil, the squash, sliced salami (maybe 4-5 slices, tops), the cheese and a bit of pepper and coarse salt.  To keep the paper from burning in the hot oven, I cut off the corners and excess paper.   I put it into the 500 degree oven for 12 minutes (just a little more time, even though it was bigger) and then also broiled it for 3-4 minutes to get it brown on the top.  It was even better this way.  Crispy and soft.  The toppings perfectly warmed/melted.  A little char flavor on the crust to add interest.

107It was great.  The combination of baking and broiling is a nice effect.  I think my lunch try at the hotter oven temperature but erring on the side of being underdone was better for the crust texture and the results.  If, however, you have a pizza stone, then following Lahey’s directions exactly will probably produce even better results.

All in all, a very successful first yeast of 2016 experience!


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